What if you could learn one simple mind hack that could potentially change your life? Well, since we're humans and not computer algorithms that can be easily rewritten, there's likely to be a range of complicated reactions to this ambitious statement. Some will feel it's a scam, others will be curious yet cautious, while some will eagerly read on to see what this miracle might be and how they can use it to their advantage. Regardless of where you fall on this continuum, read on with an open mind and a certain degree of reflexivity.
This idea begins with the premise that it's not what we go through in life but how we perceive and process what we've gone through that shapes our values, thoughts, attitudes and ultimately our behavior and character.
Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is a founding father of positive psychology, proposed that our interpretation of events that occur in our life is largely influenced by three P's: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence.
Before getting into the specifics of each P, let me share a scenario with you to better demonstrate the different dimensions of this notion. Imagine something wonderful happens to you - you land that dream job you've been dying to get. How do you explain it? Was it due to luck or hard work? Will the rest of your life equally rise or will that require different effort? Is this a new stable phase of your life or are you worried it's temporary and likely to end soon?
Now, what if something awful happens - like you have a huge argument with a loved one and haven't spoken to them in days. Let's bring in the 3 P's to help us out here. How much of what happened is your fault? This refers to Personalization - whether you attribute a negative or positive event to internal or external factors. So to what extent you believe you are responsible or played a role in the results of the event. Here we learn that not everything that happens to us is because of us but at the same time we need to assume a certain degree of responsibility in order to compromise and move on. We shouldn't take setbacks personally but we should take personal responsibility for overcoming them.
Is this situation going to start affecting your other relationships? Here, you would be pondering over Pervasiveness - whether you see experiences as generalized or specific and to what extent it's likely to impact other aspects of your life. The point about pervasiveness is that while situations don't happen in a vacuum, they do deserve their own compartment. In other words, if something bad has happened, we don't need to paint the rest of our life with the same negative brush. Instead, it can be isolated and confronted independently. Similarly, while losing 10 extra kgs is great for your health, it isn't necessarily going to bring you the happiness you seek.
Do you believe you can resolve the conflict effectively and move on or do you think you'll never see this person again? This refers to the third P, which is Permanence and it explains whether we view an event, or the accompanying sentiments, as short or long term. The relevant insight here of 'this too shall pass' is by itself a powerful psychological life vest that pulls us out of troubled waters, rather than pushing us further into the depth of despair. Furthermore, avoid using words such as 'never' and 'always' as they are meaningless generalizations during a time when a more nuanced approach is needed.
The explanations we give ourselves are as powerful as the ones we give to others. Our internal cognitive conversations have the power to help us effectively process the value of events and at the same time, can paralyze us if we get into a dysfunctional cycle of self blame, victimization and incorrectly subscribe to the mindset that life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. As Henry Ford said, "If you think that you can do something or think that you can't you're probably right."
What sets resilient people apart from those who give up more easily? The ability to manage and master their explanatory styles post situations, both personal and professional. You see, that's the secret...the life hack hinted to at the beginning of our discussion. Once you're aware of the 3 P's, you'll no longer be emotionally hijacked. Instead, you'll be able to more discriminately perceive and process events for what they are. The good news is that our psychological immunity can be strengthened with the right dose of Vitamin AA (Awareness and Application). So it's not enough just knowing what's right, but we need to also do what's right to reap the results of a more functional and healthy system of living.